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Imperial Babel: Translation, Exoticism, and the Long Nineteenth Century

Imperial Babel: Translation, Exoticism, and the Long Nineteenth Century

Padma Rangarajan
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Imperial Babel: Translation, Exoticism, and the Long Nineteenth Century
    Book Description:

    At the heart of every colonial encounter lies an act of translation. Once dismissed as a derivative process, the new cultural turn in translation studies has opened the field to dynamic considerations of the contexts that shape translations and that, in turn, reveal translation's truer function as a locus of power. In Imperial Babel, Padma Rangarajan explores translation's complex role in shaping literary and political relationships between India and Britain. Unlike other readings that cast colonial translation as primarily a tool for oppression, Rangarajan's argues that translation changed both colonizer and colonized and undermined colonial hegemony as much as it abetted it. Imperial Babel explores the diverse political and cultural consequences of a variety of texts, from eighteenth-century oriental tales to mystic poetry of the fin de siecle and from translation proper to its ethnological, mythographic, and religious variants. Searching for translation's trace enables a broader, more complex understanding of intellectual exchange in imperial culture as well as a more nuanced awareness of the dialectical relationship between colonial policy and nineteenth-century literature. Rangarajan argues that while bearing witness to the violence that underwrites translation in colonial spaces, we should also remain open to the irresolution of translation, its unfixed nature, and its ability to transform both languages in which it works.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6364-6
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. CHAPTER ONE Translation’s Trace
    (pp. 1-23)

    Let us begin by returning briefly to that meeting inConfessions of an English Opium-Eaterbetween de Quincey and the Malay. It is an episode commonly critiqued for the dubious gift of opium the author bestows on his exotic guest, but as I’ve already suggested, thinking critically about de Quincey’s wielding ofThe Iliadreveals a scene whose negotiation of power is as dependent on linguistic signification as it is on psychotropics. Opium eating brings the Englishman and Malay into uncomfortable proximity, but Greek acts as both a bridge between opposing cultures and a signifier of vast and impenetrable distance....

  2. CHAPTER TWO Pseudotranslations: Exoticism and the Oriental Tale
    (pp. 24-60)

    On the seventy-fifth day of Warren Hastings’s impeachment trial, his lead counsel for defense, the aptly named Mr. Law, reached the close of his opening speech. To counter the “virulent, opprobrious, and abusive epithets” bestowed on his client, most notably the title “Captain General of Iniquity,” Law submitted “an immense body” of testimonials from India signed by a number of upper and middle-class Indians praising Hastings as an “excellent Gentleman . . . without an equal.” The production of this first tribute apparently motivated the creation of a second, this one signed by the “inhabitants of the Hills in Ingleterry,”...

  3. CHAPTER THREE Romantic Metanoia: Conversion and Cultural Translation in India
    (pp. 61-97)

    The scholarly inclinations of the pseudotranslation may have directed the genre toward the varying exoticisms examined in the previous chapter, but it also had the effect of tying orientalist fiction to the male-dominated field of orientalist studies. While women mined the Orient for commercial and intellectual profit with the same enthusiasm as men, they had a far more tenuous relationship to its scholarly apparatus. Elizabeth Hamilton, author ofTranslation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah(1796), sarcastically noted that the heavily annotated dissertation of Indian history prefacing her novel “may be censured by others as a presumptuous effort to...

  4. CHAPTER FOUR “Paths Too Long Obscure”: The Translations of Jones and Müller
    (pp. 98-130)

    David Kopf characterizes Warren Hastings’s tenure as governor-general of Bengal after 1773 as indicative of his and the East India Company’s “transformation from merchant to empire-builder,” a reinvention marked by Hastings’s desire to administer from within Indian institutions.¹ This policy of cultural “grafting” necessitated immersion in oriental learning, but as we have seen, the increasing Anglicization of legal and educational systems of Hastings’s successors made it steadily more difficult for scholars to justify their work on the grounds of usefulness. This is not to suggest that orientalist translation died out or became solely the interest of a small coterie of...

  5. CHAPTER FIVE Translation’s Bastards: Mimicry and Linguistic Hybridity
    (pp. 131-168)

    As previous chapters have demonstrated, later nineteenth-century philology alternately asserted and denied linguistic, cultural, and ethnic links between Greek gods and Hindu gods, English and Persian, active Aryans and passive Aryans. This recognition and then dismissal of possible kinship took place most definitively after the rejection of Müller’s kinship theories changed anthropology’s parameters from philological to exclusively ethnological ones, but, to return to de Quincey’s encounter with the Malay in Grasmere, it is obvious that the racial tensions in linguistic comparatism were present from its instantiation. Even as de Quincey’s use of Greek as linguistically interstitial points to his awareness...

  6. Conclusion
    (pp. 169-174)

    When I was growing up, every Indian-American household I visited had two yellow-bound volumes in the family bookshelf:The RamayanaandThe Mahabharata. These translations ofitihasas, or historical epics, were the work of C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) for the Barathiya Vidya Bhavan (Institute for Indian Knowledge). Anticipating India’s impending nationhood, activists founded the Bhavan in 1939 to translate a series of classic Indian works into English and across the major Indian vernaculars; it was consistently supported both before and after Independence by a coterie of politicians including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Vallabhai Patel. The Bhavan’s first publication was Rajaji’s...